In response to the mental health needs of Vermont’s expanding community of refugees, Connecting Cultures was established in 2007 to serve refugees and survivors of torture. Indeed, an overwhelming 16.7 million refugees, including thousands of survivors of torture, were internationally displaced in 2014 due to war conflict, persecution, and/or unstable political infrastructure contributing to record numbers worldwide. These individuals experience chronic traumatic stressors during war, throughout the resettlement process, and post-migration. The Connecting Cultures clinical-science specialty service utilizes a multidisciplinary, evidence-based model of mental health intervention. Practicum students and interns have the opportunity to work within the Connecting Cultures service and receive comprehensive training in the cultural competencies necessary to successfully work with refugees including at risk children, adults, families, and communities. The social justice model of training highlights the importance of working with cultural consultants, interpreters, and community elders. Strengths of the program include its unique community based participatory research efforts with refugees from over 29 countries, and its ability to flexibly incorporate trauma-based therapeutic frameworks.
Practicum students and interns engage in all four integrated components of the Connecting Cultures program including: 1) Direct Service; 2) Outreach Services; 3) Training; and 4) Evaluation/Research. They also participate in multi-disciplinary teams with social workers, school personnel, attorneys, and refugee advocates. While hundreds of refugees and survivors of torture have been served since 2007, Connecting Cultures’ doctoral students receive advanced diversity training and the opportunity to nationally disseminate integrated clinical and research findings regarding refugee mental health through the analysis of the culturally informed data collected by Connecting Cultures since its inception. They receive comprehensive training in the evidence-based treatments utilized in the service, including CPT, Trauma-Focused CBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Narrative Exposure Therapy in the cultural competencies necessary to successfully work with refugees, and in the consultation and collaboration with other professionals working with this population. They also work within the NESTT (New England Survivors of Torture and Trauma external link)program providing services to refugees with histories of torture. Connecting Cultures and NESTT is coordinated by Karen Fondacaro, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology at the University of Vermont and the director of VPS.(departmental profile page)